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A Guide for Prospective PhD Students

First draft: Tuesday, 07th January, 2014

Last major update: Sunday, 07th June, 2015

If you are interested in doing PhD, please read through this page very carefully. It may help you to find the answers of various questions you may have in your mind such as:
  1. Should you really do PhD?
  2. How to choose your PhD supervisor?
  3. General advice on your relationship with your PhD supervisor.
  4. What kind of supervision help you can expect from me?
  5. What expectations do you need to meet?
  6. What are the areas of my interest and my research projects (it is highly likely that you will be working on one of these topics)
  7. What are the scholarship opportunities?
  8. How to contact me if you are interested in doing PhD with me?
Note: The views expressed here are my personal views and do not necessarily represent those of the Monash University. This guide is inspired by several articles available online (and I strongly encourage you to read further on this topic).

Should you really do PhD?

Doing PhD requires commitment and a lot of hard work for the duration of your degree (which is 3-4 years in Australia and more in USA and some other countries). Furthermore, a PhD degree may not be the best choice if you do not want to pursue a career in research, i.e., if your goal is to work for companies that are not doing any research, PhD will not help you to get the job (and in many cases you will be told that you are overqualified for the job). Therefore, my advice for you is to think very carefully before you commit yourself to PhD. I have written this section in an effort to help you making the right decision.

Since I do not want to discourage good candidates, I will first talk about positive aspects of doing research using my personal experience and opinions. There are many reasons I love doing research (and other researchers have similar reasons) and a few are listed below. Many people are fascinated by the above. However, it is critical to analyze whether you are suitable for research - being inspired by the above does not mean that it will be a good career for you if you do not have the required qualities. It may be hard to analyze your skills since most of you do not have any (or have only limited) exposure to research. However, if you always like problem solving, think deep, think out of the box, can understand complicated concepts, and are hard working, it is a good indication that you are suitable for research. Otherwise, you may not enjoy doing research and may have difficulties during your PhD studies (although there is no guarantee that you will be good for a career in research even if you possess these qualities). Therefore, my suggestion is to take some time to carefully analyze your skills, aptitude and preferences before you enrol in PhD.

I want to emphasize that a person who is not suitable for research is not necessarily inferior (in abilities) to the people who are suitable for research. Different people have different sets of strengths and weaknesses and, for this reason, are suitable for different careers. I would make a blunder if I had decided to study arts because I do not have the required abilities. Hence, there is no reason for you to be disappointed if you conclude that research is not for you. I am sure there are many other at least as good choices that match your strengths and preferences.

Below are some (very) wrong reasons to do PhD (I keep hearing these from different people interested in doing PhD). If you do not have a right reason (e.g., one of the following reasons), it is better to spend your energies on something that will be more helpful for your career. If you know (or have heard) other wrong reasons to do PhD, please let me know so that I can improve the list.

Now coming back to the original question "Should you really do PhD?". If you are even more confused after reading this section, it is a good indication because it shows that you are ready to learn/read/think more about this. I strongly encourage you to read further on this topic to get a clearer picture about research (see the bottom of the page). I can assure you that you will not regret spending time on reading these very well-written articles (read at least a couple) regardless of the final decision you make.

How to choose a PhD supervisor?

Suppose you have a friend Y who wants to get married. Y creates a profile on a matrimony website, skims through a lot of other profiles, and sends a marriage proposal to every profile that looks even slightly interesting. Y is so desperate that he/she will probably get married to the first person who replies positively. Well, most of the PhD students make the same mistake. They create a CV, visit the webpages of many of the faculty members, and send their CV to almost all of them. I know there are subtle differences but the relationship between a PhD student and advisor is a lot like a marriage - compatibility is very important. If you have different priorities, goals and personalities, both of you will suffer.

We (the advisors) carefully scan your application and only take you if you are deemed to be a good and compatible student. However, most of the students do not think much about choosing a PhD supervisor and are happy to avail any opportunity that they come across. This is a serious mistake. No matter how desperate you are to get into PhD, please make sure that you do your homework and try your best to choose an advisor who is compatible (or at least seems to be compatible). You do not want to get stuck in a bad relationship that will last for at least 3-4 years and will affect the rest of your career.

I hope I have convinced you to think carefully before selecting an advisor. There are many well-written articles on how to choose a PhD advisor. Below are some of the articles that will help you in choosing a suitable advisor for your PhD.
Finally, please do not send bulk emails to everyone thinking that you will do your homework only if the person responds positively - the advisors can easily tell which email was copied-pasted-and-sent to a lot of faculty members and ignore such emails. The emails that show that the student has done their homework receive more attention and are more likely to receive a reply.

Some words on your relationship with your PhD supervisor

I have met many PhD students who mistakenly assume that doing PhD is similar (but more advanced) to doing coursework degrees and the role of a PhD supervisor is similar to the role of a lecturer. This section is written in an effort to clarify that this assumption is wrong and it will hurt your progress if you do not start your PhD with the right attitude, i.e., the willingness to learn independently. I have seen a few bright students having difficulties in completing PhD because they failed to understand the role of their PhD supervisors. Below is a very brief description of your role as a PhD student and your supervisor's role.

Some students make the mistake of assuming that the role of a PhD supervisor is to teach them the basic concepts (e.g., techniques, theories, formulas etc. given in research papers) and give them tasks/assignments etc. This is wrong. PhD supervisors will not have time to teach you the details (and it is not their role). If you do not understand something, you need to do the relevant background reading yourself. You will have to be independent enough to learn things by yourself. A PhD supervisor will serve only as a guide. Consider that you are a car driver. The job of your PhD supervisor is not to teach how to drive the car (because he assumes that you already know this, e.g., from the courses you have taken earlier). His role is more like a GPS navigator that guides you towards the right path (e.g., a navigator will tell you to take right turn from next intersection and will not teach you how to do this). Hence, you must be an independent learner. You will have to learn a lot of new things by yourself. Do not be afraid because there is a lot of help available on internet (and from senior students in your school).

Also, do not expect (or wait) for your supervisor to give you assignments or tasks (like in coursework degrees). In coursework degrees, the lecturer is the main driver of the course (e.g., the lecturer teaches you the relevant material and your job is to understand whatever he teaches, the lecturer gives you assignments and your job is to complete the assignment before the deadline etc.). In PhD, you need to be the main driver of your studies (your supervisor will only guide you). For example, you come up with an idea and the supervisor listens to it and guides you in the right direction. Hence, you must not wait for your supervisor to give you tasks (except in the beginning of your PhD where he/she will guide you on how to get started). Also, if your supervisor has not allocated you any task it does not mean that you are not required to do anything. If you do not know what to do, ask your supervisor as early as possible. Many supervisors are too busy to keep track of the progress of their students. So, you need to drive your PhD studies yourself. In fact, in certain cases, you must push your supervisors to give you comments on your current progress (e.g., by contacting them whenever you have new research ideas). The bottom line is that you need to take responsibility of your PhD and see your supervisor only as a guide/mentor who is there to help you when you need it. A good supervisor will make sure he/she is available to listen to you whenever you need.

What you can expect from me as a supervisor?

The previous section has a negative tone because it covers what you must not expect from your supervisor. However, let me inject some positive energy in you by mentioning the fact that you as a PhD student are very valuable not only for your PhD supervisor but also for your school/department and university. This is because your success brings fruit for your supervisor, school and university (in terms of more publications, research funding etc.). Since you are an asset for us, I will try my best to ensure that you perform the best you can by providing you as much help and guidance as possible. In the previous section, I stated what you must not expect from your supervisor. Next, I briefly describe what kind of help you can expect from me as your PhD supervisor (this list is not exhaustive).

What I expect from you as a student?

Apart from hard work, passion, diligence, hunger and willingness to learn etc., I expect the following from you (again, this list is not exhaustive)..

My Research Interests and Projects

My current research interests include spatial databases, mobile and pervasive computing, computational geometry and uncertain databases. If you are interested in working in one of these areas, submit an expression of interest (EOI). Currently, I am working on two research projects related to location-based services (LBS). If you want to get a high level idea of research in LBS, look at these slides. For more details, see the details of the two projects below.

1. Next-Generation Spatial Keyword Search

The exponentially growing interest in location-based services and the availability of geo-tagged data call for a highly usable, spatial keyword search system that efficiently answers various location-based keyword queries. The aim of the project is to build the next-generation spatial keyword search system that addresses several limitations in the current systems by allowing more meaningful distance measures, modeling uncertainty in data sources and queries, and exploiting rich information from several data sources. The outcome of the project will be new theories, models, methodologies, and a prototype system that is highly usable and efficient, hence enabling more effective and efficient location-based applications.

This project is supported by Australian Research Council (ARC Discovery Project DP130103405).

2. Efficiently Querying Uncertain Spatial Space

Location-based services are becoming increasingly popular due to exponentially increased usage of smartphones and cheap wireless network. This project aims to provide effective and efficient techniques to solve the most representative location-based queries in uncertain spatial space with probabilistic constraints. The constraints can be modified to model various important travelling domains such as road networks, Euclidean space, obstructed space etc. The project also takes into account the uncertainty present in the real world data. The successful completion of the project will enhance the location-based services used by a broad class of users and applications.

This project is supported by Australian Research Council (ARC DECRA DE130101002).

3. Indoor data management

A large part of modern life is lived indoors such as in homes, offices, shopping malls, universities, libraries and airports. However, almost all of the existing location-based services (LBS) have been designed only for outdoor space. This is mainly because the global positioning system (GPS) and other positioning technologies cannot accurately identify the locations in indoor venues. Some recent initiatives have started to cross this technical barrier, promising huge future opportunities for research organisations, government agencies, technology giants, and enterprising start-ups -- to exploit the potential of indoor LBS. Consequently, indoor data management has gained significant research attention in the past few years and the research interest is expected to surge in the upcoming years. This will results in a broad range of indoor applications including emergency services, public services, in-store advertising, shopping, tracking, guided tours, and much more. In this project, we are interested in developing efficient query processing techniques for indoor location data considering textual keywords associated with objects, and data uncertainty.

4. Geo-Social Networks

Location has become an important feature of social networks. In this project, we aim at developing efficient techniques to answer various spatial queries on social networks considering both social and spatial dimensions as first class citizens.

What are the scholarship opportunities?

I am currently offering one PhD scholarship that will provide stipend of around $25,392 per year for the successful candidate(s) for up to 3 years. In addition, there are various scholarships for research students at Monash. For details, visit Monash Scholarships and Grants. Students applying to Faculty of Information Technology at Monash are also eligible for NICTA scholarships . You can also consider Australia Awards Scholarships. Please carefully read these links and the admission application procedure/requirement (I will not answer the emails that ask for the information already available on these pages).

If you are interested, submit an expression of interest (EOI) by following the procedure detailed below.

How to submit an expression of interest (EOI)?

Please send me the following information in an email.
  1. The Expression of Interest form (this is a new Monash requirement for all research degree applicants).
  2. Your resume.
After initial screening, I will send you my skype details for an interview. We will then have a detailed chat and will go from there.

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